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Santa Fe Railyard Park and Plaza: A Historic Step Toward Urban Excellence

Santa Fe Railyard Park and Plaza. Credit: Coleen Gentles.

The Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence has named the Santa Fe Railyard Park and Plaza as a 2011 Silver Medal recipient. The Santa Fe Railyard Park and Plaza emerged from a 15-year community effort to shape the form and content of the city’s last major redevelopment area, and is a testament to the power of civic involvement in the realization of great urban spaces.

When Santa Fe’s 50-acre rail yard was threatened by private development in the early 1990s, the city mobilized to purchase and protect the historic site for a local vision. With involvement from over 6,000 community members, a master plan was developed and implemented over the next decade through a unique partnership between the newly created nonprofit Santa Fe Railyard Community Corporation (SFRCC) and The Trust for Public Land.

The plan called for redevelopment that would protect the integrity of adjoining historic neighborhoods, retain the railyard’s “authentic, gritty, rugged” architectural quality, encourage alternative modes of transportation, create a pedestrian-oriented environment, and provide significant amounts of park and open space. The project – exclusive of the park and open space – was developed and managed by SFRCC, while the Railyard Park Stewards group was formed to care for the park and provide enhanced programming.

The result is a 12-acre vibrant, multi-use park and public plaza in the heart of Santa Fe. Many dimensions of Santa Fe converge here: history, water use, local agriculture, transportation, education, arts and culture, and community. There are commercial and cultural facilities, the twice-weekly Santa Fe Farmers Market, a pedestrian and bicycle path, and a commuter rail connection for Northern New Mexico within the Railyard’s historic depot. As the “family room” of Santa Fe, the Railyard complements the city’s “living room” in the historic Santa Fe Plaza by providing additional space for arts, festivals, and day-to-day life. The new pedestrian and bicycle path parallels the tracks deep into Santa Fe’s southern neighborhoods – the first of several pathways that will link the park and plaza to districts throughout the city and beyond.

Other 2011 Silver Medal recipients of The Rudy Bruner Award include Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York, a community-initiated, 85-acre park that preserves 1.3 miles of riverfront for public use; Civic Space Park, a vitalizing public space in downtown Phoenix, made possible through an innovative town-and-gown partnership; and Gary Comer Youth Center and Gary Comer College Prep, which support education and youth programs that bring new opportunities to Chicago’s Grand Crossing neighborhood. The 2011 Gold Medal recipient is The Bridge Homeless Assistance Center in Dallas, Texas, which provides shelter and services to help clients transition to sustained independence.

Established in 1986 and now in its 13th award cycle, The Rudy Bruner Award has recognized more than 65 projects that demonstrate excellence in urban placemaking. The Award was created by Simeon Bruner, in honor of his late father, to foster a better understanding of the role of architecture in the urban environment and has become one of America’s leading forums for the discussion of issues related to urban architecture, planning, and revitalization. The Rudy Bruner Award has been recognized by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Environmental Design Research Associates.

The Santa Fe Railyard Park and Plaza, along with three fellow Silver Medalists, will receive a $10,000 prize. The Bridge Homeless Assistance Center in Dallas, this year’s Gold Medal recipient, will receive a $50,000 prize.

Case studies of the 2011 award winners will be published this fall. Past publications are available online here.

U.S. Conference of Mayors Adopts Urban Parks Resolution Proposed by City Parks Alliance

Baltimore, Maryland—The U.S. Conference of Mayors has adopted a resolution put forth by the national urban parks advocacy organization City Parks Alliance that encourages greater support for urban parks from the Obama administration, U.S. Congress, U.S. mayors and the private sector.  The resolution, stating that “Everyone in urban America should live within a short walk of a park that is clean, safe and vibrant,” was adopted at the 79th annual conference held in Baltimore, Maryland, on June 21.


Left to right: Liam Kavanagh (NYC Parks & Recreation), Peggy O'Dell (National Park Service), Catherine Nagel (CPA), New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory.

City Parks Alliance Executive Director Catherine Nagel and Board Member Liam Kavanagh, First Deputy Commissioner, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, presented the proposal to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, chairman of the Tourism, Arts, Parks, Entertainment and Sports Committee on June 18.

The resolution calls for President Obama to:

  • Include urban parks as essential elements in a comprehensive approach to urban policy and community development
  • Support the adoption and implementation of the recommendations of the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative
  • Support full funding for the Land Water and Conservation Fund to establish and support great urban parks
  • Raise awareness of the need for greater public and private investment in parks and green space to create healthy, walkable and sustainable cities

The resolution also calls on the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the nation’s Mayors to work in partnership with the president, all members of the administration and Congress to create healthy and vibrant urban parks and open spaces for the 21st Century and to engage the public and private leaders in this effort.  Click here to view the list of adopted resolutions.  The urban parks resolution is located on page 170.

Please click here to download the full press release.

Houston Skatepark and Charles River Esplanade Selected as June’s “Frontline Parks”

Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes two “Frontline Parks“ to promote inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation and stewardship across the country in the face of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures and urban neighborhood decay.

What does a daffy have in common with a downward dog?

Both are moves you might see in this month’s featured parks, because parks can be as varied as the people who use them.  One may be designed to support a single activity, such as skateboarding.  Other parks are planned to support a wide assortment of uses, such as walking or running, children’s play, competitive sports, natural resource protection, or beautiful landscapes.  Programs can be as varied as a park allows, promoting mind-body exercises, cultural performances, or water-based fun.  Whether a park promotes a wide range of activities or a single use, it is but a single piece of a larger, complex parks system.  Parks and open spaces must be envisioned as whole systems, not only to best meet diverse recreational goals, but to also best deliver the wide range of associated parks’ benefits, such as health, economic development, and community-building.

June’s  featured parks demonstrate diversity in uses, and both are prime examples of parks as civic spaces, bringing people together to connect around common experiences. Continue reading

Bringing Life to Cemeteries

Older private cemeteries, where plots are mostly full and burials are too infrequent to provide adequate income, often wind up as public land managed by city park departments. A recent article, published in Landscape Architecture Magazine and American Cemetery, explores how public cemeteries can offer more to a community than a final resting place – and how the preservation of these cultural and ecological resources has come to depend on public use.

Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford. Credit: Cedar Hill Cemetery Foundation

From Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln, Nebraska, where Shakespeare’s plays are performed each summer, to Hartford’s revered Cedar Hill Cemetery, which held a successful series of evening jazz concerts in the summer of 2008, cemeteries may seem like a surprising source of liveliness. But historically, this is not a new idea.

Before there were public parks, cemeteries – most famously Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1831) and Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York (1838) – were the primary manicured and sculpted green space within urban locales. As parks arose, graveyards’ recreational use diminished. But today some cities have hundreds of acres of public and private cemetery grounds which could theoretically help with issues of urban parkland shortage.

The main hurdle is, of course, people’s skepticism about the propriety of jogging, picnicking, or hosting performances in a place of reverence. But Bob Hall, director of Flatwater Shakespeare in Wyuka Cemetery, whose mother and father are buried at Wyuka, feels the performances are “life endorsing.” And to skeptics, he developed a standard response: “I asked my parents, and they didn’t say anything.”

“Cemeteries are for the living,” agrees Mark Smith, sexton of the publicly owned Salt Lake City Cemetery. Rejecting the idea that his facility is only for somber reflection, Smith refers to it as “a hidden gem within the city,” an open space resource that can and should be utilized.

A second obstacle can be family rights, with cemetery authorities owning the ground and individuals owning a burial right that is similar to an easement. In Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery, whose collection of old and unique trees add to the alluring park-like atmosphere, the issue arose when a family asked cemetery authorities to cut down a tree they discovered growing on their ancestral plot. “That was painful,” confesses Kevin Kuharic, director of restoration and landscapes for the Historic Oakland Foundation, “but they were within their rights.”

As a whole, however, public cemeteries of all stripes are discovering ways to welcome the community into these underused spaces. The benefit is double – more people can enjoy the abundant natural and historical treasures within the cemeteries, and the increased visitation helps foundations and park departments preserve these predecessors of the modern public park.

The full text of the article, Cemeteries Alive: Graveyards are Resurging as Green Spaces for the Public, written by Peter Harnik and Aric Merolli, is available here.

For more information about cemeteries, see an earlier post.

Some news from around…

  • It seems like a no-brainer: dismantling Philadelphia’s abandoned Reading Viaduct would cost much more than transforming it into a three-quarter mile elevated park that could spur residential development in the Center City neighborhood. Advocates are starting to gather the political and financial support to get the project moving. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
  • In Milwaukee, a business group and Juneau Park Friends are offering to establish a local tax district to fund a major upgrade of two downtown parks and take over the daily maintenance of all county parks. While this management model has been used successfully in other cities, it would be a first for Milwaukee. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
  • Interior Secretary Ken Salazar hopes to make Floyd Bennett Field, a 1930s airfield in New York City, part of the next generation of urban parks by building 90 campsites in the next two years and starting an outreach campaign aimed at low-income communities. (The Christian Science Monitor)
  • After two failed attempts, New York City has successfully found a partner in AT&T to bring wireless hotspots to 19 New York City parks, more than doubling the number of parks with wireless access. (The New York Times)
  • Residents of Wilmington, a district in south Los Angeles, were going to be “buffered” from the industrial port by a 20-foot wall – but the community dug in and insisted on something better. The 30-acre Wilmington Waterfront Park, which recently opened, is the result. (Torrance Daily Breeze)
  • Austin, Texas is beginning to plan a park-focused revitalization of Waller Creek, and is drawing inspiration from Houston, where public-private partnerships enabled the construction of the transformative downtown Discovery Green.  (The Austin American-Statesman)